The human race first began growing crops around twelve thousand years ago and has been farming ever since.
For the last 70 years – a mere 0.005% of the overall timespan – our farmers have been using manufactured pesticides. During this latter time period we have also witnessed a perilous decline in our bee population. This is not a coincidence.
The European Union is currently half way through a three-year temporary ban on the sale of neonicotinoids (although, outrageously, five EU countries – Germany, Finland, Romania, Latvia and Estonia – have undermined the ban by granting “exemptions” for their farmers to continue to use neonicotinoids on certain crops).
The reason for the EU ban was a growing body of evidence that neonicotinoids, a key component of many pesticides, are playing a significant role in the sudden and drastic loss of bees and bee colonies.
The three companies most affected by the ban are the global chemical giants Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto (although Monsanto does not manufacture neonicotinoid pesticides it does coat its genetically modified “Roundup Ready” seeds with neonicotinoids).
Rather than respond to the growing concerns about neonicotinoids by reviewing the composition of their products, all three companies have instead set upon a “charm offensive” designed to present themselves, and their products, as “bee friendly”
Bayer and Syngenta, for example, have donated funds to the British Bee Keepers Association. To its shame, the British Bee Keepers Association not only accepted their donations but has since emasculated itself further by endorsing several of the companies’ pesticide products as “bee friendly”.
In 2011, Monsanto bought out Beelogics, a research organisation which had been looking into the causes of bee decline – a good way to ensure Beeologics research remains directed away from Monsanto’s own activities, as well as to bolster the company’s new “bee friendly” facade
Last year, Bayer launched a tour of US university agricultural schools called “Bee Care”, the purpose of the tour, apparently, was to “further understanding of the important role honey bees play in our food supply”.
Bayer has also published a children’s book called “Toby and the Bees” in which little Toby is told that although bees are “getting sick” it’s a problem caused by mites, and a “special medicine” will make the bees healthy again. Strangely, there is no mention at all of neonicotinoids in the book.
These kinds of tactics by the big three conglomerates are reminiscent of the tactics used for years by tobacco manufacturers – sponsoring sporting events, funding “independent” research, and the like – to divert attention from the harm their products cause.
The next challenge for our dwindling bee population will come at the end of the temporary EU ban on neonicotinoids, when European politicians will doubtless find themselves under enormous pressure from these extremely powerful vested interests not to renew the neonicotinoid ban.
I start to develop a craving for salad if I haven’t had one for a few days, even throughout the cold months of winter. This recipe is for a vibrant seasonal salad using radicchio, a variety of chicory, which I grow each year on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. As it grows, the radicchio plant starts off predominantly green, developing its beautiful and distinctive red and white colouring much later, as the weather gets colder.
Originating from Sicily, and thought to be the result of local climactic conditions, blood oranges are another delightful seasonal treat. They are also very healthy, being higher in antioxidants than regular oranges.
Of the various ingredients in this salad, olives are largely wind pollinated, but blood oranges, radicchio, carrots and onions are just some of the many varieties of fruits and vegetables that depend on insect pollination and which could therefore vanish from our tables forever if the world lost its bees.
radicchio, carrot and blood orange salad
1 small head of raddichio (use chicory if not available)
2 blood oranges
1/2 beetroot, thinly sliced (I used chioggia, which has an attractive red and white “candy stripe” appearance, but any other variety is fine)
16 black olives (stone in, as they have a vastly superior flavour)
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1 tbsp pistachio kernels
for the dressing
75 g extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
1 tbsp water
1. “Dry fry” (i.e. without oil) the pistachio kernels for 60 seconds in a hot frying pan over a high heat, shaking the pan to ensure even contact with the heat. Remove the pistachios from the heat, tip onto a clean plate and leave to cool. Crush.
2. Next, make the dressing. In a bowl combine the olive oil with the lemon juice and water and whisk until it becomes emulsified. Add the garlic and chopped herbs and whisk again to combine. Set to one side while you prepare the salad.
2. Peel the carrots and either slice them into fine strips with a sharp knife (or, for a more interesting effect, use a spiraliser – see photograph above). Remove the stones from the olives.
2. Use a sharp knife to peel the skin from the oranges, making sure there is no bitter white pith left. Use the knife to slice between the membranes of each segment. This will release the orange flesh from the segment. Place the segments to one side.
3. Finally, use your hands to roughly tear the raddichio leaves.
4. To assemble the salad, scatter the torn raddichio leaves across each plate. Scatter the beetroot slices on top of this, followed by the carrot, red onion, blood orange segments, olives and finally the crushed pistachios.
5. Spoon generous amounts of the herb dressing across the salad.